Importance of Right-Brain Learning for Foreign Language

Sometimes learning isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s tedious, challenging, frustrating, exhausting.  This can be especially true for learning a foreign language.  But wait, learning wasn’t always awful, was it?  What about when you learned to drive a car, or play a new game?  What makes learning a new language any different?  The answer lies in the way in which information is absorbed by the brain.  Fortunately, the right approach can make a big difference in enjoyment as well as effectiveness.

The two sides of the brain

To understand this better, we first need a brief lesson on the brain. The brain is composed of two hemispheres, the left and the right.  The two sides process information very differently.  The left brain is analytical, orderly, and detail oriented.  It monitors behavior, and understands rules and boundaries.  The right brain is intuitive, emotional, and holistic.  It specializes in sounds and images, and understands relationships and humor.

The left and right hemispheres of your brain are like two completely different people. As such it’s not surprising that they play different roles in learning, and prefer different styles of learning.  The left brain likes to learn from textbooks, lectures and logic, while the right brain likes to learn from pictures, stories and experiences.  Everyone learns with both sides of their brain, however many individuals find one side to be dominant, and often learn better using techniques which favor that side.

While people are divided fairly equally between left- and right-brain dominance, schools tend to exclusively utilize left-brain learning techniques (textbooks, lectures, exams, memorization, etc.). Therefore right-brain learners often struggle with many subjects, especially subjects that benefit from right-brain teaching techniques utilizing sensory stimulus and hands-on experience.

Implications for language learning

The left and right sides of the brain have very different roles to play in learning foreign languages. The left brain is responsible for learning the rules and structures of a language, and can make sense out of what is heard, as well as formulate a response.  The right brain is better at memorizing the words and sounds, and making them rapidly available to the left brain when called upon.  The two sides work together to construct or deconstruct the language building blocks in a meaningful way that follows the rules of the language.  You simply cannot understand or speak a language without both sides of the brain, and it’s important to teach each side in the way that works best for it.

Language patterns don’t always make sense, and the left brain is going to have a hard time with that. The patterns we learned in speaking our native language can essentially sabotage our efforts to learn new ones, especially when they appear to be the same.  For example when we see an “r” in a word, we want to say the American English “r” sound, but the “r” sound is quite different in Spanish, French or German.  Our left brain will be constantly trying to find common ground between the two different “r” sounds, resulting in an American English accent.  Only by shutting out the left brain can we learn to pronounce the “r” like a native.

Fortunately the right brain isn’t so critical, and has no problem with ambiguity or novelty. Remember this is the side of the brain that appreciates art.  So when learning new sounds or words in a foreign language, it’s best to direct the input to the right brain.  With foreign language vocabulary, the goal is to load up the brain with as many words and sounds as possible, as well as their associated meanings.  The right brain excels in this sort of thing.  It absorbs information subconsciously and in a non-linear fashion, so fragments of information can be stored and recalled instantaneously and effortlessly.  Compared to the left brain, it will memorize words more quickly, more accurately, more easily, and more permanently.  Learning in this way can actually be quite fun.

So how does one go about teaching language to the right side of the brain? Simply listening to native speakers every day would be a good start.  That would get the brain used to hearing the sounds.  Having multiple speakers is also a good idea, especially of both genders, since students tend to shape their pronunciation after the native speaker.

However we also need to know the meanings of the words, and we don’t want to memorize the translations from English, as that creates an extra step for the left brain to do the translation, jeopardizing the likelihood of ever becoming fluent. We need to create fundamental, intuitive linkages between concepts and the words.  One good way to do this is to show the object, especially if the image is stimulating or triggers some emotional response.  That helps the association stick.  Ideally the foreign word should be spoken and also shown visually, to maximize right-brain stimulus.  There should not be any English in the process, but it may be necessary to clarify a word’s specific meaning or nuance.

It is upon these principles that we created Dragonfly Language Video Flashcards. The Flashcards rely purely on right-brain learning techniques:

  • Native professional speakers, both male and female
  • Flashcards are repeated several times in each lesson
  • Vivid and captivating images are used to stimulate the right brain and strengthen associations
  • English words are displayed for limited duration during the beginning of each lesson to clarify meaning

Utilizing right-brain learning techniques in this way can result in high-speed and long-term learning which is ideally suited for building foreign language vocabulary. Dragonfly Language Video Flashcards are a powerful tool which leverages these advantages to form a foundation of vocabulary similar to that of native speakers, and can be an ideal companion to any foreign language learning curriculum.


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